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Following Britain’s recent utterances that it will not rule out the possibility that the EU may retain oversight of customs controls at UK borders after it leaves the bloc, the Irish government has warned UK authorities it will not be used as a “pawn” in Brexit negotiations, reports News Letter, UK.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he does not want the issue of the Irish border to be used by the UK government as a tool to pressurise the EU for broader trade agreements.

Mr Coveney also said that sufficient progress on the future of the Irish border has not been made during Brexit talks.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire in Dublin on Tuesday Mr Coveney said: “We do not want the Irish issue, the border issue, to be used as a pawn to try to pressurise for broader trade agreements.”

He added: “Sufficient progress (on the issues facing the island of Ireland post-Brexit) hasn’t been made to date.”

He warned that in order for Brexit negotiations to move onto the next phase “measurable and real progress” is needed.

Before the meeting Mr Brokenshire insisted there was no possibility of the UK staying within a customs union post Brexit.

He said that to do so would prevent the UK from negotiating international trade deals.However, following a meeting with the Irish and British Chamber of Commerce he said there would be a period of implementation where the UK would adhere closely to the existing customs union.

“We think it is important there is an implementation period where the UK would adhere closely to the existing customs union,” said Mr Brokenshire. “But ultimately it is about the UK being able to negotiate international trade deals.

We want to harness those freedoms. If we were to remain in the customs union that would prevent us from doing so. “We are leaving EU, customs union and single market. We have set out options as to how we can achieve that frictionless trade,” he added.

However, Mr Coveney said the Irish Government believes the best way to progress “the complexity of Britain leaving the European Union is for Britain to remain very close to the single market and effectively to remain part of the customs union.”

He added: “That would certainly make the issues on the island of Ireland an awful lot easier to manage. “But of course the British Government’s stated position is not in agreement with that but that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to advocate for that.

“In the absence of that it is up to the British government to come up with flexible and imaginative solutions to actually try to deal with the specific island of Ireland issues.” Source: Newsletter.co.uk, author Mc Aleese. D, August 22, 2017.

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European-Commission-Logo-squareThe European Union’s rules determining which countries pay less or no duty when exporting to the 28 country trade bloc, and for which products, will change on 1 January 2014. The changes to the EU’s so-called “Generalised System of Preferences” (GSP) have been agreed with the European Parliament and the Council in October 2012 and are designed to focus help on developing countries most in need. The GSP scheme is seen as a powerful tool for economic development by providing the world’s poorest countries with preferential access to the EU’s market of 500 million consumers.

The new scheme will be focused on fewer beneficiaries (90 countries) to ensure more impact on countries most in need. At the same time, more support will be provided to countries which are serious about implementing international human rights, labour rights and environment and good governance conventions (“GSP+”).

The EU announced the new rules more than a year ago to allow companies enough time to understand the impact of the changes on their business and adapt. To make the transition even smoother for exporting companies, the Commission has prepared a practical GSP guide.

The guide explains in three steps what trade regime will apply after 1 January 2014 to a particular product shipped to the EU from any given country. It also provides information on the trade regime that will apply to goods arriving to the EU shortly after the New Year.

The changes in a nutshell:

  • 90 countries, out of the current 177 beneficiaries, will continue to benefit from the EU’s preferential tariff scheme.
  • 67 countries will benefit from other arrangements with a privileged access to the EU market, but will not be covered by the GSP anymore.
  • 20 countries will stop benefiting from preferential access to the EU. These countries are now high and upper-middle income countries and their exports will now enter the EU with a normal tariff applicable to all other developed countries.

For the finer details of the revised EU rules visit: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-1187_en.htm?locale=en

Who Really Runs this Place?

November 27, 2013 — 1 Comment

SpinWatchUK public interest and transparency lobby group Public Interest Investigations (PII) recently published a somewhat perturbing paper on the activities and dubious role of the ‘Big 4’ accounting firms. The report aptly titled – Who Really Runs this Place?  takes a look at some of the relationships between the Big 4 accountancy firms and the UK government. It examines some of their lobbying activity: on their own behalf to block much-needed reforms of the industry that they dominate; at some of the lobbying they have undertaken to protect the tax avoidance industry; and at their role as lobbyists-for-hire.

Who Really Runs this Place? reveals how:

  • At least 50 employees of the Big 4 have been on loan to the government in the past three years;
  • One of the Big 4, lobbies for tax breaks for its clients – a service that it describes as a ‘low risk alternative’ to tax avoidance – while at the same time advising the Treasury on reform of the tax system;
  • They successfully lobbied the British government to oppose new EU rules designed to improve audit standards and challenge the monopoly of the Big 4;
  • They are profiting from changes to government policy, changes that are made by government departments that they are contracted to;
  • Lobbying by the Big 4 accountancy giants – either on their own behalf or for clients – is unlikely to be included in the forthcoming register of lobbyists.

You can also watch Spinwatch’s new Big 4 film here!

Source: http://www.spinwatch.org

 

THE number of French customs officials has fallen 25 per cent over the last 20 years to 16,662 with another 300 expected to go next year as surveillance becomes more computerised. Picture: Seanews Turkey

THE number of French customs officials has fallen 25 per cent over the last 20 years to 16,662 with another 300 expected to go next year as surveillance becomes more computerised. Picture: Seanews Turkey

The number of French customs officials has fallen 25 per cent over the last 20 years to 16,662 with another 300 expected to go next year as surveillance becomes more computerised. (Comment: by stark contrast French Doeane still have more staff than the South African Revenue Service, where the Customs compliment is around 2500 officers.)

“Ten years ago, 1.2 million containers a year arrived in the Port of Le Havre, with 560 customs staff and three agents of the competition and anti-fraud service,” said Bertrand Vuaroqueux of the National Union of Customs Officers. “Today, it’s 2.5 million containers, but only 400 staff.”

While the trend is EU-wide, it is more acute in France where the number of seizures of counterfeit goods has fallen by half since 2011 while 33 per cent of goods inspected in 2012 did not comply with EU rules, increase of 22 per cent from 2011.

Even the economy ministry, in charge of customs, hints at an official weakening of overall surveillance, Reuters reports. “The priority is no longer systematically to check vessels in coastal waters but to focus on the most important fraud cases,” it said in the draft 2014 budget.

European customs services are under orders to facilitate the flow of trade and make life easier for companies to avoid hobbling economic competitiveness.

Competition for business among European ports and airports has led to what critics call a race to the bottom between national customs services.

The big winners are Europe’s two largest ports, Antwerp and Rotterdam, where China has invested in making the 12-million-container-a-year megaport on the Maas/Rhine Estuary.

As the EU seeks a string of free-trade deals across the globe, Antwerp is building the world’s largest lock, wide as a 19-lane highway, to accommodate a new generation of giant ships.

Like its rival European ports, Antwerp is under pressure from importers to do checks quickly and efficiently. While only one to two per cent of goods entering Europe are physically inspected nowadays, online checks of digital paperwork are carried out on the basis of risk analysis.

The role of customs has also been changed by the single European market, which allows the free movement of goods inside the 28-nation EU and by globalisation which multiplied international supply chains, and by the economic crisis. Such trends may accelerate with new customs rules having customs declarations made at an office remote from the point of entry of the goods starting next month. “We will have to establish rules of engagement to ensure it doesn’t become a big sieve,” a European Commission source told Reuters. Source: Seanews.com

Fake goods being destroyed

Fake goods being destroyed

Customs in the European Union (EU) detained almost 40 million products in 2012, suspected of violating intellectual property rights (IPR), with an original goods retail value of just under €1 billion, according to an annual report published by the European Commission.

The previous year, close to 115 million ’fake’ items had been seized, worth more than €1.27 billion. However, the number of recorded cases for detained goods last year was down only slightly on 2011.
This is thought to be due to the strong growth in small shipments of counterfeit merchandise ordered via the Internet.

Globally, 30% of the goods seized were cigarettes followed by a miscellany of goods (11%), packaging materials (9%), clothing (8%), toys (4%) and perfumes and cosmetics (3%). The vast majority were destroyed.

In terms of the number of cases, most of the detained goods had been shipped by air, post and express, whereas maritime container transport was the main mode for the number of articles seized.

In over 92% of all cases, Customs action was triggered whilst the goods concerned were under an import procedure.

“Customs is the EU’s first line of defence against fake products which undermine legal businesses,” said Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Anti-fraud and Audit.

He stressed that the annual report illustrated “the intensity and importance of the work being done by Customs in this field. I will continue to push for even greater protection of intellectual property rights in Europe, through our work with international partners, the industry and Member States.”

China was by far the principal origin of the fake goods. However, other countries were the primary source for specific product categories. For example, Morocco for foodstuffs, Hong Kong for CD/DVDs and tobacco product accessories (electronic cigarettes and the liquid fillings for them), and Bulgaria for packaging materials. Source: EU Commission

Rhino horns seized from smugglers by the Czech Customs Authority

Rhino horns seized from smugglers by the Czech Customs Authority

Czech customs agents seized 24 rhinoceros horns Tuesday and charged 16 people with bringing the prized material illegally from South Africa to sell it in Asia.

“Our investigation showed that the transport is organized by an international ring of smugglers who have used fake export permissions seemingly complying with (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to import the rhinoceros horns from the Republic of South Africa to the European Union,” said Jiri Bartak, spokesman for the Czech customs department.

The arrests follow an investigation by Czech and EU customs authorities begun in 2011. The gang was alleged to have planned re-exporting the horns as trophies, according to their fake documentation. Rhino horns are popular in parts of Asia where many believe they can cure various illnesses or work as an aphrodisiac.

South Africa is home to the world’s largest rhino population, estimated at about 20 000, though the large upsurge in poaching is threatening their existence. Rhino poaching is expected to reach record levels this year, according to South African officials.

Czech authorities estimate the value of the seized rhino horns at up to 100 million koruna ($5 million), Mr. Bartak said. The authorities said the ring employed people impersonating hunters to gain permission to ship horns acquired from African poachers to Europe and elsewhere. Czech customs didn’t release details of where the charged individuals came from or give their names. If convicted they face up to eight years in prison. Source: leos.rousek@wsj.com

Siim Kallas - Europe’s ports must be better connected across the wider transport network.

Siim Kallas – Europe’s ports must be better connected across the wider transport network.

The following article featured in Port Stratetgy and penned by Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of transport policy, offers some sound views on how ports and regional networks ought to harmonise to ensure their competitiveness.

Europe’s prosperity has always been linked to sea trade and ports, which have great potential for sustaining growth in the years ahead. As gateways to the EU’s entire transport network, they are engines of economic development. And more cargo, cruise ships and ferries in our ports mean more jobs.

Europe depends heavily on its seaports, which handle 74% by volume of the goods exported or imported to the EU and from the rest of the world. Not only are they important for foreign trade and local growth, ports are the key for developing an integrated and sustainable transport system, as we work to get trucks off our saturated land transport corridors and make more use of short sea shipping.

Need to adapt

Even with only modest assumptions of economic growth, port cargo volumes are expected to rise by 57% by 2030, almost certainly causing congestion. In 20 years, Europe’s hundreds of seaports will face major challenges in performance, investment needs, sustainability, human resources and integration with port cities and regions.

So our ports need to adapt. Take the next generation of ultra-large vessels that carry 18,000 containers. Put onto trucks, these containers would stretch in a single line from Rotterdam to Paris. To accommodate them, ports need to provide the adequate depth, crane reach and shipyard space. There is also a growing need for gas carriers and gasification facilities.

Efficiency and performance vary a great deal around Europe. Many EU ports perform very well – take Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg, which handle 20% of all goods. But not all ports offer the same high-level service. Port network connections and trade flows are well developed in northern Europe, but much less so the south.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link: if a few ports do not perform well, it affects the sustainable functioning of Europe’s entire transport network and economy – which needs to recover and see long-term growth.

Preparing for the future

Ports must be prepared for the future. This means improving local connections to the wider road, rail and inland waterways networks; fully optimising services to make the best use of ports as they are now; and creating a business climate to attract the investments that are so badly needed if capacity is to expand, as it must do.

Unlike other transport sectors, there is almost no EU ports legislation, on access to services, financial transparency or charging for infrastructure use. Experience from the last 15 years shows that the market cannot solve the problem itself; the lack of equal competition conditions and restrictions to port market access are barriers to improving performance, attracting investments and creating jobs. We need to act.

Our proposal to review EU ports policy focuses on the ports of the trans-European Transport Network, which accounts for 96% of goods and 95% of passengers transiting through the EU ports system. Firstly, if ports are to adapt to new economic, industrial and social requirements, they must have a competitive and open business environment.

Freedom to provide services, with no discrimination, should be a general principle; although in cases of space constraints or public interest, the responsible port authority should ensure that decisions granting market access are transparent, proportionate and non-discriminatory. Transparency of public port financing should also be improved, to avoid distortions of competition and make clear where public money is going. This will encourage more private investors, who need long-term stability and legal certainty.

On charging for using infrastructure, where there is no uniform EU model, port authorities should be more autonomous and set charges themselves. But this must be done based on objective, non-discriminatory and transparent criteria. Ports should also be able to reduce charges for ships with better environmental performance.

Staying competitive

We also plan to help our ports stay competitive by cutting more red tape and administrative formalities to boost their efficiency even further. As in many other economic sectors, staffing needs in ports are changing rapidly and there is a growing need to attract port workers. Without a properly trained workforce and skilled people, ports cannot function. The Commission estimates that up to 165,000 new jobs will be created in ports by 2030.

Modern port services and a stable environment must also involve modern organisation of work and social provisions. Many countries have reformed and the benefits of doing so can be clearly seen. Experience in Member States which have implemented ports reforms show that open and proper discussions between the parties involved can make a real difference. So we want to give this a chance first, over three years, to see what can be achieved. If that does not produce results, we will have to consider taking action.

To stimulate resource-efficient growth and trade, Europe’s ports must be better connected across the wider transport network. They must make sure they are able to develop and respond to change. This is what the European Commission aims to achieve, for the long-term benefit of the ports sector, local business and the environment. Source: Portstrategy.com

South African rooibos (Afrikaans for red bush) is caffeine-free, high in anti-oxidants and minerals, and traditionally grown in the Cederberg region, 250 kilometres to the north of Cape Town. Credit: John Fraser/IPS

South African rooibos (Afrikaans for red bush) is caffeine-free, high in anti-oxidants and minerals, and traditionally grown in the Cederberg region, 250 kilometres to the north of Cape Town. Credit: John Fraser/IPS

A trademark system which is used to protect Europe’s finest wines, cheeses and hams could soon brew up benefits for a humble tea from a remote region of South Africa.

The trade protection system called Geographic Indications (GIs), which is highly favoured by the eurocrats of Brussels, could be used to protect a South African red tea, locally known as rooibos (Afrikaans for red bush) as French firm Compagnie de Trucy is trying to secure the exclusive rights to market it in France.

GIs are increasingly important in the global trade arena, although it is wrong to think they offer enormous bulk trade opportunities. This form of food copyright already applies widely to specialty products, which can be linked to a specific region – such as French champagne, Parma ham and many types of cheese.

They (GIs) open-up niche markets for increased value add products, which taken together can total something significant. In addition, they involve cutting-edge frontiers in trade that largely rely on intellectual property rights for value, and are also linked to trade issues regarding brands and logos.

South African rooibos is caffeine-free, high in anti-oxidants and minerals, and traditionally grown in the Cederberg region, 250 kilometres to the north of Cape Town. It is growing in popularity worldwide due to its healthy properties, which helps to explain Compagnie de Trucy’s move to obtain marketing rights.

The issue has been elevated to diplomatic level between the European Union and South Africa at a time when both parties hope to finally conclude negotiations on updating their wide-ranging trade framework, after more than a decade of discussion. The GI system has enabled EU countries to clinch niche markets for brands such as champagne, which have enormous growth potential on a global basis.

While China as a country is South Africa’s biggest trading partner, the EU as a bloc is more important in value terms, and there are powerful arguments that both sides should expand GIs in their future relations. Soekie Snyman, the spokeswoman for the South African Rooibos Council, which represents rooibos producers, told IPS that the red tea needed to receive official trademark status in South Africa itself before it could qualify as a GI.

Rooibos, Aspalathus linearis (N.L.Burm.) R.Dah...

Rooibos, Aspalathus linearis (N.L.Burm.) R.Dahlgr., Clanwilliam, Western Cape, South Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The EU supports the protection of indigenous crops, with one of the main requirements being that the product must be protected in its country of origin, and we are nearly ready to file for trademark protection in South Africa. Rooibos is a unique plant, coming from the Cederberg mountain area. It is a caffeine-free beverage.

The EU ambassador in Pretoria, Roeland van de Geer, confirmed in a news release in March that he received a request from South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies “for the protection of South African food product names as Geographic Indications in the EU.

As well as rooibos, there have been requests for Honeybush, which is another type of tea, and for lamb from the Karoo desert region. The development of a GI system for South African farmers will reinforce the uniqueness and quality of South African products. South African wine makers have used the GI system for many years and have found it an effective way to protect famous names like Paarl and Stellenbosch.

There is a range of other South African products that might also be eligible for GI protection, such as ostrich and springbok meat, and the marula fruit from which the Amarula liquor is made. Meanwhile, the same criteria could apply to produce from other countries of the Southern African region – such as Mozambican prawns, Botswana beef and Namibian oysters. Source: AllAfrica.com

4209_image002January, 2013 saw the United States and the European Union implemented the mutual recognition arrangement for their respective supply chain security programmes. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) administers the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), which is now recognised as equivalent to the European Union’s Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) programme.

Should they elect to allow CBP to share certain information with the European Union, US importers authorised under C-TPAT will be considered secure and their exports will receive a lower-risk score by the customs administrations of EU member states. In practice, certification translates into time and money savings for parties dealing with trusted operators. In that sense, certified operators are successfully marketing their status as a distinguishing competitive advantage.

Both programmes are voluntary, security-based programmes aimed at improving supply chain security. As programme members, importers receive lower risk-assessment scores in customs administrations’ computer targeting software. Therefore, members are subject to fewer security-related inspections and controls. The mutual recognition arrangement between the United States and the European Union allows for members of one programme to receive reciprocal benefits when exporting to the other jurisdiction.

However, not all C-TPAT members qualify for full AEO benefits. Only Tiers 2 and 3 C-TPAT importers (considered as more secure) may receive a lower risk-assessment score, and consequently undergo fewer inspections when exporting to an EU member state. In addition, in order to receive these benefits, C-TPAT members must expressly elect for the United States to share certain information with the European Union and certify that their exports meet all applicable requirements.

The mutual recognition arrangement may also exempt members’ facilities from undergoing validation site visits by both administrations when initially being certified or during revalidation visits. This benefit is available for every tier of C-TPAT membership.

The mutual recognition arrangement applies only to C-TPAT importers which also act as exporters. A C-TPAT manufacturer will benefit from the arrangement only if it also acts as the US exporter. For example, if a US company owns a C-TPAT-certified manufacturer in Mexico that directly ships merchandise to the European Union, those shipments will not benefit from the arrangement.

CBP’s targeting system recognises AEO-certified entities by their manufacturer identification number. Certified manufacturers will receive benefits under the arrangement regardless of whether they are the EU exporter. A certified exporter which is not a manufacturer may obtain a manufacturer identification number to gain from the benefits of mutual recognition. As such, AEO-certified manufacturers and exporters may benefit under the arrangement, but only US exporters are eligible for benefits.

Although the United States and the European Union have recently announced the possibility of a US-EU free trade agreement, this arrangement is a trade facilitation measure that companies may elect to participate in immediately, regardless of the results of potential free trade agreement negotiations.

The United States also has mutual recognition arrangements for supply chain security with Canada, Japan, Jordan, Korea, New Zealand and Taiwan. Source:  Sidley Austin LLP, and The International Law Office

ZimbabweThe Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (IEPA) Zimbabwe signed with the European Union (EU) is set to suffocate the country’s trade and industrial development policies due to the removal of taxes, a regional non-governmental organisation has warned. Zimbabwe alongside Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar concluded the IEPA with the EU that would result in the removal of taxes between the African countries and the EU.

But in an analysis of the trade pact, the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (Seatini) said the elimination of the export taxes is a blow to both the National Trade Policy (NTP) and Industrial Development Policy (IDP) meant to promote the trade and industrial revival respectively.

Last year, the Zimbabwean government launched the Industrial Development Policy 2012-2016 that advocates value-addition or beneficiation and the NTP to guide the country’s trade with the rest of the world.

“There is no doubt that for Zimbabwe to successfully implement the NTP and IDP it will need to use tools such as export taxes. However, Article 15 of the interim EPA agreement that Zimbabwe signed and ratified provides for elimination of export taxes, thereby suffocating the policy space Zimbabwe is referring to in its National Trade policy on the need for value-adding natural resources,” Seatini said in a discussion paper, Zimbabwe’s control over its natural resources in the WTO context.

Article 15 of the IEPA provides that for the duration of the agreement, the parties shall not institute any new duties or taxes on, or in connection with, the exportation of goods to any other party in excess of those imposed on products destined for sale. The organisation recommended that Zimbabwe “must exercise its right to develop its economy and protect the environment through the use of export taxes, until such a time when the economy can competitively trade with the rest of the world enabling it to then gradually eliminate the taxes on a product by-product basis”.

It also recommended that government should consult widely all relevant ministries and the private sector on its existing and proposed laws relating to any prohibitions and restrictions on the export of natural resources especially metals and minerals. Seatini warned that the use of export restrictions would be in violation of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Article XI:2(a) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade does not allow WTO members to impose prohibitions and restrictions on the importation of any product, unless they (restrictions and prohibitions) are temporary, addresses critical shortages, relates to foodstuffs or other products and are essential to the exporting WTO member. It said it would be difficult for Zimbabwe to prove the critical shortage requirement. Source: The Standard – Zimbabwe

Nuctech Fast Scan Vehicle and Container inspection system

Nuctech Fast Scan Vehicle and Container inspection system

Part of the problem here is that the Chinese have a significant market share in this type of equipment. In a short period of 10 years they have outstripped some of the more fancied American and European players in this business. While the dispute in question raises ‘ethical’ questions of the Chinese, it does seem to be a matter of sour grapes.

China’s anti-dumping duties on imports of x-ray security scanners from the EU violated global trade rules, according to a WTO panel ruling that was issued yesterday. [WTO Dispute Settlement, DS425]

Brussels brought the dispute in July 2011 after Beijing imposed duties ranging from 33.5 to 71.8 percent on the x-ray scanners. (See Bridges Weekly, 25 January 2012) The EU exports approximately €70 million of these scanners to China annually.

China imposed the duties after the EU had applied anti-dumping duties on Chinese cargo scanners one year earlier, which some viewed at the time as a “tit-for-tat” move.

The panel report primarily focused on procedural issues in Beijing’s investigation, specifically regarding how China calculated the anti-dumping margin, loosely defined as the difference between the price – or cost – in the foreign market and the price in the importing domestic market.

Beijing included more expensive “high-energy” scanners – which do not “look remotely like” the cheaper scanners, according to the panel report – in calculating the average domestic price, even though only cheaper “low-energy” scanners were exported. The panel found that this price comparison was “not consistent with an objective examination of positive evidence” required under WTO rules.

The panel also found that Beijing did not comply with certain due process and transparency requirements before imposing the duties.

The panel did not rule with the EU on all points, however, noting that Brussels had not established that Beijing had acted inconsistently in certain other procedural matters.

“I expect China to remove the measures immediately,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said on Tuesday in response to the panel ruling. “I will not accept tit-for-tat retaliation against European companies through the misuse of trade defence instruments.”

Under WTO rules, both sides have 60 days to appeal the ruling. In a statement, China’s Ministry of Commerce indicated that they would make a serious assessment of the case and reserved the right to appeal.

National Planning Commission Minister - Trevor Manual

National Planning Commission Minister – Trevor Manual

South African Minister in the Presidency in charge of the National Planning Commission Trevor Manuel says Africa has a lot to learn from the ongoing European economic crisis in order to avoid making the same mistakes. Delivering a presentation under the theme “Africa and the European Financial Crisis — Opportunities and Risks” at the AMH Conversations dinner in Harare on Monday, Manuel said while the European Union (EU) moved at a fast speed towards convergence “we in Africa have been rather painfully too slow about convergence”.

“In fact, it’s so bad for us as Africans that 21 years after the Abuja Treaty was adopted and set out exactly what we need to do if we want to get to an African common market…we still need to focus on regional building blocks,” he said.

“We aren’t building blocks, I am afraid that we are just pebbles without mortar to hold us together. Its not about EU, not about the US (United States), not about the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank, its about us and the way we relate to each other, and in this context it is fundamentally important that we talk to each other as Africans about some of the hard truths that confront us.”

The former South Africa Finance minister said regional integration required hard work, honesty and convergence, adding that in a global economy, African countries would not be able to survive as individual entities. “As individual countries, we will not make it in the world. We will be picked off and become markets for the rest,” he said.

“So we can’t look to the rest of the world. We have to look to each other in our neighbourhood and understand that’s where change will be driven from. As we learn from Europe we look at ourselves in understanding what we should not do.”

He said institutions mattered both in good times and during a crisis, adding that it mattered for Africa to understand the speed at which countries develop as it builds regional institutions. Manuel said the Lisbon accord brought everybody together in a short space of time without ensuring that each country in the EU was moving at the same rate.

Meanwhile, speaking at the same event, Finance minister Tendai Biti described regional integration as imperative. “For me, with great respect to our principals and leaders, my great disappointment is with the structure of our regional bodies,” he said.

“If you go into the main summit of a SADC meeting, we spend 90% of the time discussing Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The actual reports from key ministers like Ministries of finance, regional integration and trade are basically footnotes that Head of States just sift through.” Source: Newsday (Zimbabwe).

Comment: The sad reality of it all is that it is Africa’s politicians which drive this process – they preside over the regional secretariat’s. Its time to provide the necessary guidance to the regional bodies. Moreover, if the ultimate goal is an African Union, why are multiple (overlapping) regional economic unions being promoted?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the European Union (EU) signed today a Mutual Recognition Decision between CBP’s Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program and the EU’s Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) program.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar and European Union Taxation and Customs Union Directorate Director-General Heinz Zourek sign the Mutual Recognition Decision between CBP’s Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program and the EU’s Authorized Economic Operator Program.

CBP Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar and Director-General Heinz Zourek, European Union Taxation and Customs Union Directorate (TAXUD) signed the decision, which recognizes compatibility between the EU and the U.S. cargo security programs.

“Today’s decision on the mutual recognition of the EU and U.S. trade partnership programmes is a win-win achievement: It will save time and money for trusted operators on both sides of the Atlantic while it will allow customs authorities to concentrate their resources on risky consignments and better facilitate legitimate trade,” said Director-General Zourek.

C-TPAT is a voluntary government-business initiative to build cooperative relationships that strengthen and improve overall international supply chain and U.S. border security. C-TPAT recognized that U.S. Customs and Border Protection can provide the highest level of cargo security only through close cooperation with the ultimate owners of the international supply chain such as importers, carriers, consolidators, licensed customs brokers, and manufacturers. Source: US CBP

Related article

The European Union on Monday prohibited the use of X-ray body scanners in European airports, parting ways with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which has deployed hundreds of the scanners as a way to screen millions of airline passengers for explosives hidden under clothing. The EC, which enforces common policies of the EU’s 27 member countries, adopted the rule in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.

As a ProPublica/PBS NewsHour investigation detailed earlier this month, X-ray body scanners use ionizing radiation, a form of energy that has been shown to damage DNA and cause cancer. Although the amount of radiation is extremely low, equivalent to the radiation a person would receive in a few minutes of flying, several research studies have concluded that a small number of cancer cases would result from scanning hundreds of millions of passengers a year.

European countries will be allowed to use an alternative body scanner, on that relies on radio frequency waves, which have not been linked to cancer. The TSA has also deployed hundreds of those machines – known as millimeter-wave scanners – in U.S. airports. But unlike Europe, it has decided to deploy both types of scanners.

The TSA would not comment specifically on the EU’s decision. But in a statement, a TSA spokesman said, “As one of our many layers of security, TSA deploys the most advanced technology available to provide the best opportunity to detect dangerous items, such as explosives. We rigorously test our technology to ensure it meets our high detection and safety standards before it is placed in airports,” he continued. “Since January 2010, advanced imaging technology has detected more than 300 dangerous or illegal items on passengers in U.S. airports nationwide.”

Body scanners have been controversial in the United States since they were first deployed in prisons in the late 1990s and then in airports for tests after 9/11. Most of the controversy has focused on privacy because the machines can produce graphic images. But the manufacturers have since installed privacy filters.

As the TSA began deploying hundreds of body scanners after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009, several scientists began to raise concerns about the health risks of the X-ray scanner, noting that even low levels of radiation would increase the risk of cancer.

As part of our investigation, ProPublica surveyed foreign countries’ security policies and found that only a few nations used the X-ray scanner. The United Kingdom uses them but only for secondary screening, such as when a passenger triggers the metal detector or raises suspicion.

Under the new European Commission policy, the U.K. will be allowed to complete a trial of the X-ray scanners but not to deploy them on a permanent basis when the trial ends.These new rules ensure that where this technology is used it will be covered by EU-wide standards on detection capability as well as strict safeguards to protect health and fundamental rights.

Five-hundred body scanners, split about evenly between the two technologies, are deployed in U.S. airports. The X-ray scanner, or backscatter, which looks like two large blue boxes, is used at major airports, including Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy in New York and Chicago’s O’Hare. The millimeter-wave scanner, which looks like a round glass booth, is used in San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas.

Within three years, the TSA plans to deploy 1,800 backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners, covering nearly every domestic airport security lane. The TSA has not yet released details on the exact breakdown. Source: ProPublica